Thursday, June 23, 2011

A dangerous movie

Last night my family and I watched the movie, The History Boys. On one level I think it is excellent and raises profound issues. What is the real purpose of an education? How does one balance a true education against the conflicting pressures for performance on external examinations? What is history? Many of the characters are beautifully portrayed and (unfortunately) quite believable in all their anxieties, foibles, and ambiguities.

However, in the end I think this is a dangerous movie, is morally dubious, and consequently undermines its main message of the value of education. Why? The "hero" is an inspiring (male) teacher who fondles his (male) pupils. The movie (and reviews) treat this abuse in a light manner: to me they "rationalise" and "trivialise" it in a celebration of the creative tensions and possibilities of moral ambiguity. [Here is a review of the original play in The Guardian]. This excellent blog post argues persuasively why we should be troubled by this movie. I think if the abusive teacher had been a priest the moral outcry against the play and movie would have been thunderous. And so it should have been!

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